The Bengals’ offensive line was an obvious weakness in 2017.
With Russell Bodine leaving in free agency, center has become a glaring hole that the Bengals need to fill. The NFL Draft offers a number of options at the center position, but the three that have gotten the most attention are Ohio State’s Billy Price, Iowa’s James Daniels, and Arkansas’ Frank Ragnow.
Multiple mock drafts have the Bengals selecting Daniels or Price in the first round, but is this the right move?
The Perceived Value of a Position
It goes without saying that certain positions have a higher perceived value than others, particularly in the NFL Draft. This year’s draft will be a great example, as its is likely that four quarterbacks will be selected in the top five picks while stronger prospects like Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith and Ohio State corner Denzel Ward will fall to the tail end of the top 10.
Even elite prospects like Penn State running back Saquon Barkley and Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson will take a back seat to at least one quarterback. In the NFL’s hierarchy, the the quarterbacks are at the top of the food chain. Offensive tackles, edge rushers, and defensive backs are in the next tier, while linebackers, offensive skill players, and interior linemen fill out the bottom.
Interior offensive linemen do not hold the same value as offensive tackles and the top interior talent often falls to the second half of the first round. This year will be a bit different as Quenton Nelson will undoubtedly be the first offensive linemen taken and could go as high as the second pick. The Bengals are likely to have every other guard and center as an option when they pick at twenty-one.
What makes the center position unique is that there is only one on the field and if a team has one, they won’t be looking to acquire one on the first two days of the draft. This thins the herd in the center market a bit. The first center selected in last year’s draft was LSU’s Ethan Pocic, who went to the Seahawks at the end of the second round. Twelve picks later, the Vikings took Pat Elflein at the beginning of the third round.
With options such as Price, Daniels, Ragnow, Michigan’s Mason Cole and LSU’s Will Clapp there is no telling how the Bengals have the position ranked. If they choose to go center in the first round, they would almost certainly get their first choice, but what is the opportunity cost?
If the Bengals waited 25 more picks to take a center in the second round, how many could go off the board? Probably only one or two. So if the team does not see a major gap between their top three centers, it would be a smart move to wait until Round 2. This way, they could use their first-round pick to address other needs or further improve the offensive line by selecting someone like Georgia guard Isaiah Wynn.
There are two ways to fail in the draft; not drafting based on need and drafting only based on need. If the Bengals select a center in the first round, they will be robbing themselves of the opportunity to add a potential starter at another position. Based on how quickly centers tend to go off the board, the Bengals will be able to find a quality starting center in the second round.
Over-drafting a player based on an obvious need is not a strategy that will help this team build back up to a playoff contender. The wise move is to select another quality player in the first round and wait until day two to make a move on a center.